Growing up in Transylvania, Romania, interdisciplinary artist and physician C Fodoreanu spent his childhood summers with his family at Lake Sacalaia (Lacul Ştiucilor), often carrying his Leica camera. Ostensibly the deepest freshwater lake in the country (its exact depth is unknown), Sacalaia is full of legends: divers who never returned from their attempts to reach its bottom; a sunken Roman settlement; an underwater village inhabited by ghosts; a drowned basilica whose steeple, on a clear day, might be discerned by rowers. In his first monograph, Ode to the Lake Sacalaia, Fodoreanu explores memories of the lake, its geography, and its mythology through photographs.
Ode is divided into four sections, the first preluded by a series of spiraling aerial photographs that zoom in on the nominal lake, the next with a poem by Fodoreanu, and the final two with essays by art critics Seph Rodney and Shana Nys Dambrot. These essays, which come near the book’s end, add contextual information about the lake and the artist without giving away Fodoreanu’s story before his photos can tell it.
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The photographs are primarily black and white, haunting and grainy. Many include multiple or long exposures with moving figures; some are almost abstractions. The book begins with childhood photos of family members, rowboats, and reflections on the water. These images are marred by light leaks, inconsistencies in development, and scratches — all the authentic results of an old camera and time. The second section features the shadows of a figure performing swimming motions; overlapping arms, hands, heads, and torsos create a sense of intimacy. These are accompanied by more vintage photos, ghostly images of kids at play, leaping across dips in the landscape, seemingly floating in the air like swimmers treading water. Or perhaps they represent the ghosts of Sacalaia’s lost divers.
Six photographs saturated in shades of indigo interrupt the grayscale images. While the series — portraying a man diving headfirst into the water at night — stands apart in terms of color and clarity, the images share the ambiguity of the others. The darkness is broken by small highlights: the moon, the little hairs on the diver’s limbs, the muscles of his torso, the spray of droplets and ripples on the water at the point of entry. The diver’s head is always cut off at the water’s surface. The body appears to be simultaneously entering from above and floating just below it.
The last section is composed of abstract black-and-white photographs so grainy that they’re pointillistic, and printed on paper thin enough to just make out the picture on the next page — perhaps like a boater glimpsing what might be the roof of a basilica.
Turning the pages of Fodoreanu’s book becomes an active physical metaphor for growing older and leaving childhood behind, though its memories can always be revisited. Ode to the Lake Sacalaia is an investigation into the retracing of memory and mythology, naïve hopes and fears, care and play, as captured through photography and altered by time.
Ode to the Lake Sacalaia by C Fodoreanu (2022) is published by Cornel/Henry Art and is available online.